Montana’s Famous Fly-Fishing Rivers Are Feeling the Heat of Climate Change

Montana’s Famous Fly-Fishing Rivers Are Feeling the Heat of Climate Change


Catching a fish, that’s the moment that
you celebrate. But, that’s not often what sticks. It’s the day. It’s Lucy going tearing after a bald eagle that jumps out of the bushes, and seeing a moose walking down the river. They call this the last best place, Montana. And they call the Big Hole the last best river. You are kind of at one with nature. You completely forget about everything else
in your life, and become totally immersed. But uh, something’s going on. There’s no doubt about it. The Big Hole is warmer than it used to be. We used to see 50 below, several days of that every year. And we rarely see 50 below, ever. Our spring seems to come a little earlier
and fall seems to last a little longer. For certain we’re seeing changes. I’m sitting here on the banks of the Big Hole
River in southwest Montana. Montana is an iconic place for fly fishing. People come here from all over the world to
fish in these clean, cold waters. But, Montana is heating up at twice the rate
of the planetary average. What’s happening with increasing rapid warming
is that it’s easier for these cold, clean waters to turn into slow, warm waters in very
short order. Fish don’t like it when the water gets warm. They get stressed out physiologically, they’re
more vulnerable to getting funguses and diseases. In many of our rivers, the farther downstream
you go, used to be trout fisheries and they’re not anymore. There’s very few trout in them. When the waters are warm, the river shuts
down. People come out earlier, but they stop when
things start to warm up. The restrictions are happening more often because our warm summers are happening more often. Now it seems like the norm, rather than the
exception. It’s affecting our business. I talked to a lot of people this week who
spend their time on the river, and there’s different perceptions about what they see
happening here. Our winters aren’t as severe as they used
to be. We don’t have as much snowpack as we used
to have. There’s something going on, yeah, yeah. But what’s causing it, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s manmade. I don’t think there’s anything we can do to
change it ourselves. What I see about the climate is, nobody can
predict it. And as soon as they do, it changes again. The easy answer is, this is cyclical. And, the earth has been really cold, we had
ice ages. The earth has been really warm, and we’re
in an uptrend. That’s an easy answer. But the facts are, we should be getting colder
right now, and instead we’re getting warmer. Montana is a deeply conservative state. There are not big population centers here. People are sparsely located across the landscape. We solve our own issues with our neighbors. We have relationships with folks that are
all predicated on trust. And there’s a deep-seated mistrust of government. And climate change seems to be governmental
to a lot of folks here. (dog barking) He’s telling me, “Let’s get going, I
wanna go fishing!” I’m a Republican and proud to be one. I’m for a smaller government. I’m pro-business. I believe in climate change. There’s just a lot of signs that indicate
that things are changing. Craig Fellin is an example of a conservative conservationist. He, like many people in Montana, have a deep conservative political standing. But he also recognizes that having a healthy environment and being conservation-minded doesn’t have to be at odds with that. Many people forget this, but Republicans have
a track record of being conservationists. It’s very frustrating for me to not see
that issue in talking points on the 6 o’clock news every night. These are facts that can’t be ignored. We need to evolve with this evolving change. If climate continues to change and get warmer,
there may not be anything we can do in those lower reaches, which are warmer and have lower flows and those sorts of things. There may not be anything we can do. Ooh let me see. We’re changing the climate. It’s up to my generation now, and we’re
going to need a lot of help. So these kids, these 6, 7, 8 and 9 year olds,
we’re going to lean on them pretty heavily. And I don’t think we’re going to be shy
about telling them that. “This is up to you guys. We screwed it up. It’s unfortunately on your plate to fix it.”

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